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New Year and Kurbam Bayramı in a Turkish family

Posted: 2007-01-06 16:57:08, Categories: Travel, Turkey, 893 words (permalink)

Having dinner during the Kurbam Bayramı celebration in a Turkish family. I was planning to celebrate the New Year at a club in Taksim, the busiest nightlife district in central Istanbul. I had even signed up beforehand to the party. However, the unexpected happened again and I found myself as the honoured guest in a Turkish family living in an eastern suburb of the city. None of them even spoke any English, but it didn't stop them to treat me with all the food, love and care they had.

The story actually begins already December 19 when I was leaving Istanbul for going to Ankara. The train station is on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and I planned to take a ferry there around nine o'clock, in order to catch a train leaving an hour later. However, at the ferry docks I noticed that the last ferry to the right place had left 20 minutes ago. Well, I took another one which brought me to a couple of kilometers away and started walking towards the station. I could have taken a taxi but didn't want to spend extra on that. I had not yet bought the train ticket and there was still a later train the same evening if I'd miss the one I intended to take.

I didn't need to walk long until two guys driving a city cleaning department pickup truck stopped by and waved me to hop in. I managed to explain where I'm going and got a ride to the train station. One of the guys even helped me find the ticket counter and train. Then I got the phone number of one of the guys, Ali, and he asked me to call when I'd be coming back. I'd get another ride and we could have a cup tea together, they said.

When I was boarding the train in Ankara eleven days later I remembered Ali and wondered whether I'd bother him again. The request to call had sounded genuine and even enthusiastic so I decided to give it a go. I sent a message saying that I'd be arriving the following morning.

In the morning he wasn't at the station but gave me a short call at the designated time. After a couple of unsuccesful attempts to communicate without a common language I found a friendly person at the station who helped to translate. We decided to meet at the same place at 17:00 the same day.

I was there at the agreed time and so was Ali, again driving the same small truck. Then off we drove, pedal to the metal, picking up some other workers and dropping them home, and ending up to a city truck depot where Ali left the vehicle. From there we hitchiked, walked, ran and took a bus east, finally arriving to a house where Ali's family was waiting for us.

It was a big family. If I understood correctly Ali had five brothers and one sister. Four of the brothers were present, two with their wifes and small kids, and either all five (including Ali) or at least most of them also lived under the same roof with the parents. Now all had gathered to the living room to celebrate the first day of Kurbam Bayramı, one of the big muslim festivals which happened to co-occur with New Year's eve this time.

We had a meal which consisted of meat, cabbage, youghurt, hot chilis, bread and of course tea. For the dessert there was a huge plate of home made baklava and different kinds of fruit. Other program of the evening included watching Ali's photos from his military service period, watching my photos from Finland, chatting (as much as we could with the limited common language) and watching television. A small funny bit for me was that the Santa Claus appeared in the New Year TV show, and Turkish people actually often call that day Christmas. Alcohol was not part of the celebration in this family: everybody was drinking only water, tea or soft drinks.

I also took a shower and my hosts insisted to wash my jacket, which they found dirty. ;) We went to sleep around one o'clock and in the morning I was again treated to a sumptuous breakfast. Then I returned to the European side of Istanbul and to my hostel accompanied by Ali, who thereafter needed to go to work again.

Right after the New Year I caught a bad flu and spent a couple of days mostly in bed. Now I've mostly recovered but still coughing and sneezing frequently. However, sick or not, today is my last day in Istanbul. In a few hours I'll pack my stuff and ride to the airport, where I'll be boarding a flight to New Delhi, India at 02:15. I hope everything will go well and both me, my bicycle and other luggage will arrive there safely.

Riding the bicycle in New Delhi may be challenging to say the least, so this time I'm not planning to simply load the panniers on the bike, get out of the airport and head to the city. Instead, I should be having a taxi waiting for me at the airport and a place to stay for the first couple of days. This way I can take it easy upon arrival and see later whether and where in India I can actually continue cycling. More about that later.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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